Pa. Chief Justice reminds lawyers to offer pro bono services for civil legal aid
Pennsylvania’s top jurist is calling on the commonwealth’s 70,000-plus licensed lawyers to engage in pro bono service in support of the state’s legal aid programs. Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille recently drafted a letter alongside Tom Wilkinson, the president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, that was sent to attorneys as a reminder to make a personal commitment to provide pro bono service through direct representation of the poor and financial support of legal aid programs, especially in light of the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of counsel for the indigent in criminal cases. In a statement, Castille noted that the anniversary is the ideal time for lawyers to “contemplate the legal community’s ethical obligations to the civil side of justice, where few Gideon-type rights have been recognized.” “Pro bono volunteers provide meaningful time and financial contributions by representing clients who have critical needs, but cannot afford private counsel,” Castille said in his statement, which was released by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. “Despite the support of the court and licensing fees, it is the volunteer efforts that still matter. In these times of such great need, pro bono service is more important than ever.” According to the AOPC, during the past two years every licensed attorney in the commonwealth has contributed $35 to civil legal aid through the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts portion of annual licensing fees. The state’s high court has also supported civil legal aid by providing new avenues for funding legal services and establishing a loan-forgiveness program of legal services attorneys funded by pro hac vice filing fees. According to the AOPC, the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, or PLAN, which is the commonwealth’s coordinated system of groups that provide civil legal aid to those in need, is facing a financial crisis because of a substantial decrease in funds available for civil legal aid. PLAN offers programs that provide legal assistance and access to the courts for state residents whose family income is less than 125 percent of the poverty level.